God is the Sower,
 his Word is the seed

Readings: Is. 55.10-11; Ps. 65; Rom. 8.18-23; Mt. 13.1-23

Whenever I have a question, I like to go to experts in that field. The word "expert" derives from the word "experience." An expert is someone with trustworthy experience. You will remember that in past years when I had to prepare a homily for Good Shepherd Sunday, I visited various sheep farmers in our parish. Today's gospel presents the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. And so, I telephoned a modern day farmer who is a member of our parish.

I asked him how would he relate this gospel to his farming. The man became very joyful in his voice, and replied with glee, "Father, farming and being a good Christian go hand-in-hand. The same traits are necessary for farming and practicing my faith. And once you have farm dirt under your fingernails, you never lose that feeling for farming, just like you never lose your feeling for being Catholic." He added, "Some people might choose to leave the farm for other work, but a true farmer loves to get back home on the farm." He added, "Farming is my passion." I observed that faith too is a passion. When your soul has been touched by faith and religion, it remains a part of you. We priests oftentimes observe, that even if good living and well instructed Catholic stop coming to church, or even convert to some other denomination, they remain Catholic in their heart and soul. Sooner or later, the longing for the sacraments, for devotion to Mary, longing for the fullness of truth brings many, not all, people back to the Catholic Church. It's like that farm soil under the farmer's fingernails. By baptism and the sacraments, we have been marked out, identified, for Christ and the Church which he founded. As St. Augustine says, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord."

I suggested, "Much hard work is required, yes?" My farmer friend replied, "Farm work is hard work, and it never ends." He explained that he had planted corn in the spring and will harvest soon. Right now he is harvesting wheat, and immediately behind that crop, he will plant soy beans. He commented "Farming and faith both require hard work. It's never ending work. The job is never completely done. Farming and faith are not for quitters."

Trying to make applications to the gospel, I asked about weeds. My friend became ecstatic. He said, "Technology has given us a way to deal successfully with weeds. Weeds always lie at the edges of the fields, at the fringes. There is always competition between seeds and weeds. if the competition becomes too great, then the weeds will win out, as he said, "just as Satan wins out sometimes, because sometimes evil conquers good." Technologically, he explained, when a field is tilled, a herbicide is placed into the soil to kill the weeds. The seeds, therefore, are able to grow unimpeded." He added, "Too bad we don't have a herbicide for Satan." I replied we do. Our defense is "freedom used well". We can turn away from Satan. We can close our minds, our eyes, our ears from Satan's temptations. We can change some, not all of the circumstances in our lives. We can avoid many occasions of sin. Conversely, positively, we can place ourselves in good contexts to know, see, and hear God. This is not a new technology; God had been teaching this for two thousand years in the Old Testament, and the Church has been teaching this with wisdom for an additional two thousand years.

My friend kept speaking enthusiastically about his vocation. He said he loves to watch plants sprout through the ground, and grow up, and mature. I inquired "what is the reward of farming for you?" He paused, as if it was the dumbest question he had ever heard. He replied, "When the cash comes in. because then I can plant crops for the following year too." And he added, "I don't need much to survive. What matters to me is faith, family, and friends." He concluded, "I wake up every morning and pray, "Lord, this day is your day. Whatever I do, I do for you."

In today's gospel reading, God is the Sower, his Word is the seed, and we represent metaphorically and literally the various contexts for receiving God's Word. God can sow only good seed. We oftentimes take root and give good fruit from our good soil. Sometimes we fall upon rocky times, sometimes we feel as if we've been trampled underfoot; those physical contexts challenge us. Even in those times, God wants us to respond and give as much fruit as possible. God, like my farmer friend, watches and waits for us, as we sprout and take shape, and please God continue to bear good fruit.

Friends, let's take a lesson from Jesus and our contemporary farmer. We want to pray and work so that we might be fruitful. We want to bear fruit thirty-fold, sixty-fold, a hundred-fold. We can aid that process by saying like our farmer parishioner, "Lord, this is your day. Whatever I do, I do for you."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley